News

Semi-auto rifles approved for some Pa. hunting

Written by Kate Penn/York Daily Record | Mar 29, 2017 11:13 AM
hunting2_deer.jpg

Pennsylvania Game Commission Officer Terry Beer, right, checks the hunting licenses of Dante Bauccio, center, and Aaron Rech during the first day of Pennsylvania's white-tailed deer hunting season Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, on the state game lands in Butler, Pa. Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvania hunters will tramp into the woods this week for the first day of the state's major deer hunting season. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

(Undated) -- Hunters will see changes in the firearms used in Pennsylvania woods this year.

Semi-automatic and air- and gas-powered rifles will be permitted in the hunting of small game for the 2017-2018 hunting season.

The Pennsylvania Board of Game Commissioners unanimously approved the measure after a last-minute amendment to exclude the use of those firearms in hunting large game like deer, elk, bear and turkey. The commissioners' initial proposal, which received preliminary approval in January, would have allowed the use of semi-automatic firearms to hunt big game as well as small game.

"I'm a little disappointed," said Don Helms of New Freedom, who spoke in favor of semi-automatic firearms on behalf of the Hopewell Fish and Game Club in Shrewsbury during public comment the day before the vote. "They're a little antiquated in how they think."

Helms moved from Maryland, where semi-automatic firearms are permitted for hunting, to Pennsylvania three years ago.

"I actually think it's safer to use a semi-automatic," said Helms, an NRA instructor and Maryland State Police firearms instructor. With less recoil and without the need to reload for a second shot like a bolt-action firearm, shooters can continuously track their target in a more fluid motion, Helms said.

Ideally, one well-placed shot will take down an animal, Helms said. But he already hears multiple shots in quick succession when he's out in the woods now, so there are hunters taking more than one shot. Without the need to reload, a semi-automatic firearm would be more efficient and less likely to leave injured animals roaming the woods, he said.

When members of the Hopewell Fish and Game Club sat down to discuss the proposition, the overwhelming majority supported it, Helms said. Those opposed were mostly steeped in the idea of tradition and generally against change, he said.

After the proposal in January came out, the commissioners reviewed research that showed no increased safety concerns, and they got about 1,500 comments -- the vast majority of which came from people who supported semi-automatic firearms.

But a survey sent out to hunters who bought a license last year yielded a very different response. Among those surveyed, about half gave general support for the use of semi-automatic firearms with small game and furbearers, and far fewer -- about 20 percent -- supported their use for big game.

"We listened to hunters," said commissioner Timothy Layton. "We saw the hunter survey. We saw what the numbers were. It was pretty cut and dry at that point."

The board saw enough research to convince its members that the use of semi-automatic firearms is safe, said commissioner Jim Daley. But Pennsylvania hunters haven't quite caught up.

And if Pennsylvania hunters aren't on board, Daley said, "we're not going to shove it down their throats."

One thing the commissioners and Helms agree on -- this conversation about semi-automatic firearms and hunting isn't over.

"I think it's going to be in the forefront for a while," Layton said.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and the York Daily Record.

Published in News

Tagged under , , , , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »